"Due to increased security, only ticketed passengers are allowed in the terminal," said the flight attendant as the plane began its final approach to the Tampa International Airport. "If anyone is meeting you, they'll be at the front of the airport."
Super Bowl XXV is scheduled to go on as planned - Sunday afternoon in Tampa Stadium - but with variations. Every Super Bowl develops its own personality. This silver anniversary edition is starting out on the border between subdued and skittish.Instead of Joe Namath predicting a victory for the Jets, the NFL is predicting the game will be terrorist-free.
Instead of the NFL commissioner announcing final details for his traditional Friday-night-before-the-big-game party for 2,000, the party has been canceled.
Instead of teams coming to town after a full week's rest and complaints about too much time between games, the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants are complaining about not nearly enough time to settle in and prepare for each other without an extra week's rest.
And instead of TV executives rubbing their palms together in anticipation of $1.5 million for every minute of Sunday afternoon advertising time, they're worrying that the game could be off the air at a moment's notice.
This one is different all right. The Roman Numerals aren't the only things that have changed.
There is a war going on in the Persian Gulf. There is a need to be sensitive.
Also, a need to be defensive. Maybe it is only a football game, but when it is viewed by 750 million people around the world, it has showcase potential well beyond football. It could be the terrorist attack heard 'round the world.
Aware of that threat, the NFL and the city of Tampa have not only beefed up security at the airport but have turned Tampa Stadium into something of a fortress. Concrete bunkers ring the parking lots and a 6-foot-high chain link fence lies inside the bunkers. No umbrellas, cameras or portable TV sets will be allowed in the stadium on game day. They're still deciding whether to install metal detectors. They may not even allow the Goodyear Blimp overhead.
At nearby MacDill Air Force Base, the base that gave the Persian Gulf war its commander-in-chief, "Stormin' " Norman Schwarzkopf, they'll be on alert from kickoff to the postgame interviews.
As for the traditional Commissioner's Party, a Super Bowl highlight that costs $500,000 and has been a longtime favorite with businesses that rent tuxedos, it was called off out of empathy for the war effort. It's one thing to play the game, it's another to eat, drink and make excessive merriment.
For the same reasons, the Bud Bowl press conference was called off Tuesday.
As you might suspect, all this has left Tampa with a Super Bowl atmosphere slightly lacking in the frivolity that is usually associated with the biggest game on earth. If they're not going around saying "Why us?" you know that's what they're thinking.
The city started plotting "Super Host" strategy years ago, before anyone knew how to spell Kuwait and before the NFL went to its expanded season that would eliminate the extra week to prepare for the Super Bowl.
Tampa put up palm tree-shaped "welcome" signs and otherwise dressed up the city. They went so far as to cancel a traditional local event called the Gasparilla, a Mardi Gras-style parade held at the end of every January in celebration of the legendary pirate Gaspar. The problem was, Gasparilla - which featured many prominent businessmen sailing ships into Tampa Bay while dressed up, and acting like, pirates - was sponsored by a large club called Ye Mystic Crewe, which limited its membership to white males.
When Ye Mystic Crew wouldn't open its membership to everyone, Tampa knew one thing. It knew it didn't want to be another Shoal Creek - or another Phoenix Super Bowl for that matter.
Thus did Gasparilla bite the dust.
Not that there isn't still hoopla and hype in the air. Frank Sinatra is here. So is Waylon Jennings and Whitney Houston and Jimmy Buffet and the Smothers Brothers. Regis and Kathie Lee will be broadcasting from here all week, as will ESPN.
But without any blimp shots. This is the lean and mean Super Bowl. No exceptions. Even when the Giants and Bills arrived at the airport, their adoring hordes had to wait at the terminal gate.